Honeydripper John Sayles

Honeydripper John Sayles
It’s the early ’50s and rural Alabama nightclub owner Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover) needs to fill his Honeydripper Lounge with customers or go under. Purvis rolls the dice and hires Guitar Sam, a star of the electric guitar, to pack the place. Getting in his way are a redneck sheriff (Stacy Keach) who milks Purvis, Purvis’s own gambling problems, which rile his religious wife, Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and Guitar Sam, who fails to show up. Like Sayles’s other dramas, the main story is merely a vehicle to present a historic milieu — the backdrop is the star of the film. In Honeydripper it’s the Old South, sitting on the cusp of the American Civil Rights Movement that would soon revolutionise relations between whites and blacks. With taste and restraint, Sayles portrays the exploitive cotton-picking farms where poor blacks are still treated like slaves after 85 years of so-called emancipation, the brittle paternalism between wealthy whites (Mary Steenburgen as matron Amanda Winship) and their black housekeepers, the in-fighting amongst poor blacks and the rise of electric blues that would eventually crossover to white audiences as rock’n’roll. This is an intelligent film laced with thoughtful dialogue and consistent acting. Glover carries the film as the struggling but honourable Tyrone, and the supporting cast is solid. However, at two hours, the film is long. Sayles prefers a relaxed pace, like a stage play, and employs musical scenes only occasionally to spice things up. Sayles deliberately underplays the drama but that strategy doesn’t always work, as there are too many slow patches in the film and not enough urgency. After a while, do we really feel that Tyrone is in trouble? The DVD adds only the trailer. (Seville)